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Classic FM finds garden rosy as BBC staff defect

IN possibly the most devastating departure since John Noakes left Blue Peter, the line-up of BBC Radio 4's Gardener's Question Time yesterday defected to the commercial station Classic FM to set up a rival show.

It will be presented by Dr Stefan Buczacki along with other established members of the BBC show, including Daphne Ledward, Fred Downham, Sue Phillips and Bridget Moody.

Michael Bukht, Classic FM's programme controller, said: 'We've discovered that well over half of our listeners, more than 65 per cent, list gardening as one of their major hobbies.'

The new hour-long programme, Classic Gardening Forum, begins on 2 April and will retain the BBC show's celebrated village hall visits and phone-ins. However, to meet the station's licence requirement, the traditional question and answer sequences will be blended with popular classical music to fit themes such as flowers, fruit and the regions from where the programmes are broadcast.

'So if we're in Sussex around the South Downs and there questions about gardening on chalky ground, we could happily play one of the Chichester Psalms. If we had something on Brussel sprouts, then we'd have to commission a piece about them,' Mr Bukht said.

Dr Buczacki, who last month learnt that he was being replaced as chairman, yesterday said that he and his co-panellists 'all loved Gardeners Question Time' but were left with 'no choice but to leave'. He added that the new production company's talk of retaining the current line-up had not been matched by any medium or long-term contracts. The only offers were for three of them to make two appearances each.

Last August, the BBC was inundated with complaints after announcing it wanted to 'improve' Gardeners' Question Time to attract a younger audience (most of its 1.3 million listeners are women over 55).